Dorobo (or Ndorobo, Wadorobo, Wandorobo, Torobo) is a derogatory umbrella term for several unrelated hunter-gatherer groups of Kenya and Tanzania that are subservient to the Maasai and have no cattle.
The term 'Dorobo' derives from the Maa expression il-tóróbò (singular ol-torróbònì) 'hunters; the ones without cattle'. Living from hunting wild animals implies being primitive, and being without cattle implies being very poor in the pastoralist Maa culture.
Although many of them happen to be Nilotic, Dorobo as used by the Maa simply refers to neighbouring hunter-gatherers regardless of their origin — the Yaaku for example (present-day Mukogodo-Maasai) are an Eastern Cushitic people, the Aasax are of Southern Cushitic origin, while the Akie (Mosiro) are Eastern Nilotes.
Groups that have been referred to as Dorobo include:
- Kaplelach Okiek and Kipchornwonek Okiek (Nilotic; Rift Valley Province, Kenya)
- Mukogodo-Maasai (the former Yaaku, sometimes Aramanik) (East Cushitic; Laikipia District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya)
- Aasax (South Cushitic; northern Tanzania)
- Akie (sometimes Mosíro, which is an Akie clan name) (Nilotic, northern Tanzania)
- Mediak (Kalenjin, northern Tanzania)
- Kisankasa (Kalenjin, northern Tanzania)
- Aramanik (Kalenjin, Tanzania)
- Mosiro (Kalenjin, Tanzania)
Relations with neighbours
A historical survey of 17 Dorobo groups in northern Kenya found that they each maintained a close rapport with their surrounding territory through their foraging. Speaking the same language as their nomadic pastoralist neighbours, they would maintain peaceful relations with them and accepted a lower status. Occasional intermigration and intermarriage between the two groups was even possible. If the political landscape shifted and new pastoralists entered the area, then the local Dorobo would switch to the new language and build up new relations, while clinging to their territorial niche.
- Huntingford for example writes (1931:228): "...all the Dorobo dialects, as now spoken, are based on Nandi—this was first shown by Hobley, who was a pioneer in this field, and whose vocabularies are fairly reliable—..." (for Hobley, see Hobley 1903, 1905, 1906).
- Spencer, Paul, 1973, Nomads in Alliance: Symbiosis and Growth among the Rendille and Samburu of Kenya, Oxford University Press, London. (pp. 199-219, “The Dorobo and Elmolo of Northern Kenya.”)
- Distefano, John A. (1990) 'Hunters or hunted? Towards a history of the Okiek of Kenya', History in Africa, 17, 47–57.
- Hobley, C.W. (1903) 'Notes concerning the Eldorobo of Mau, British East Africa', Man, 3, 33-34 (with a 100-item vocabulary on page 35).
- Hobley, C.W. (1905) 'Further Notes on the El Dorobo or Oggiek', Man, 5, 39-44.
- Hobley, C.W. (1906) 'Notes on the Dorobo People and other Tribes; gathered from Chief Karuri and others', Man, 6, 119-120.
- Huntingford, G.W.B. (1931) 'The Taturu, Mosiro, and Aramanik dialect of Dorobo', Man, 31, 226–228.
- Kenny, Michael G. (1981) 'Mirror in the forest: the Dorobo hunter-gatherers as an image of the other', Africa, 51, 1, 477–495.
- Maguire, R.A.J. (1948) 'Il-Torbo', Tanganyika Notes & Records, 25, 1–27. [reprint of a 1928 article published in the Royal African Society's Journal]
- Rottland, Franz & Vossen, Rainer (1977) 'Grundlagen für eine Klärung des Dorobo-Problems', in Möhlig & Rottland & Heine (eds.) Zur Sprachgeschichte und Ethnohistorie in Afrika. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 213–238.